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April 10th through April 21st Italy Trip

Hey everyone! So I returned home the night of Friday, April 21st. I must have slept the weekend away because here it is already Monday. Is it too early to begin planning my next vacation?
I had a fantastic time in Italy and am so proud of myself for embarking on my adventure alone and living to tell the tale.
I was in Rome, Florence, Venice, and Siena. Out of all of these cities I enjoyed Siena the most. I'd suggest buying a good pair of hiking boots for times when you become lost in any of the above cities (all four for me...oops...directionally challenged). In Rome, I managed to get lost walking from the Coliseum back to my hotel...three hours, 30,000 steps and 12 miles (according to my fit bit) later I finally reached my hotel. I was in agony. It should have only taken me 30 minutes. My GPS decided it didn't know where I was...I did stop for gelato while I was lost. :-)
In regards to the bus from Florence to Siena...I'm going to say the opposite of what others have said. Don't do it! Take the train! Coming back from Siena we left at 4:40 pm but because of traffic we didn't get back to Florence until 7:00 pm which caused me to miss my 7:08 pm train back to Rome. I had to purchase another ticket because my business class ticket was non-refundable.
Everyone must eat a cioccolato croissant and espresso at Cafe Italiano Via Calabria, 14, Roma. So freaking good and lots of locals.
Italy does not shut down for Easter. Easter was a great time for me to go albeit a bit busy. Lines were long.
I'd suggest buying tickets for museums, etc. you are for sure going to that may have large lines from what you've read and then wait to reserve other places of interest for when you arrive. I didn't go to some things I'd bought tickets for because I was either tired or I'd found other places I'd like to see more.
Customs is a breeze and shouldn't scare anyone! I brought back Pecorino Cheese and alcohol and claimed both so that there'd be no issues...and I paid no duty...also, I was only asked if I'm carrying more than $800 worth of stuff back and I wasn't so I said no. They don't care what you have unless it's over $800, at least from Italy. I was not asked for my cell phone as all of the rumors say that customs is doing. Can you imagine checking thousands of cell phones a day? That'd take forever. We were like an assembly line. In AND out; in AND out...one after the other.
All in all, I had a fantastic adventure. It was a trip of a lifetime but I hope to make it only the first trip of a lifetime...I will be back!

EDIT: I forgot to mention that I followed Rick's advice on how to get to St. Peter’s Basilica from the Sistine Chapel: I went through the door that states Tours Only. No one monitors it. It was a Godsend. There was no way I was going to wait in another line. I could barely walk at this point (I have a bad back and bad legs and had been on my feet all day). I was in so much pain but I was determined to see the Basilica. So I totally recommend trying it. I figure if someone stops you, then just nod and turn away…what are they going to do? In my case, nothing. I saw the Pieta, which evoked such emotion. I lit a candle. I sat my aching body down and reflected.

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1845 posts

Wonderful! Glad to hear you had such a terrific time, have been bitten by the Travel Bug and I am eagerly awaiting the rest of your report. I was surprised to hear it was (kind of) business as usual in (the rest of...) Italy for Easter. Sicily was a very different experience for the entire week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday but then it's a small island. Maybe that's the difference? I loved being there then!

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11554 posts

There you are!!!
Great report and I'm tickled that you had a fabulous time! Good tip on train versus bus to Siena, too.
Tell us more? What was the #1 best freakin' thing you saw/did in each city? :O)

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278 posts

I have to tell you we brought back way more stuff last year and they didn't care. We weren't charged either. yay. but not this trip, just happy to go this time.
Leave in less than 2 days and have 6 days in Siena after Venice, then Rome. I can't wait. tough year, will enjoy music and wine!

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140 posts

So here's my full trip report...Enjoy:

On the flight to Paris CDG (my first European layover city) I was lucky to have the two seats next to me, my entire row, empty. But, even with lying down, I wasn’t able to sleep at all. When I arrived at CDG, I was so surprised at how fast I was able to get from Delta Terminal 2E Hall M to Terminal 2F for my Air France flight to Rome. I had a layover of 1 hour and 45 minutes and got there in plenty of time to withdraw Euros from the airport cash machine. Passport control was so easy and so fast, it was unreal.
After arriving in Rome, I took the bus to Roma Termini Station...worked out perfectly! Fried pasta and chips for lunch hit the spot...and the hips! And now it was time to find a taxi.
Rome:
Day 1: After reading AND rereading all there is to know about Rome by Rick Steves, I neglected to follow one of his instructions due to nervousness and travel exhaustion (not jet lag…I had none). That instruction was not to jump into the first “taxi” that hawks at me. Yes, that’s right! Start yelling at me! And what do I say to this hawker? Why I say the two words never to be uttered to a taxi driver in Rome: “How much” to _________? What normally would cost €10 to my hotel from the train station as I would find out later, cost me €20. I knew I was being cheated but I just wanted to get to my hotel so I didn’t care. I don’t recommend this. Slow down and think and then look to the left and there will be a taxi stand with a man directing people into awaiting taxis. I never again fell for the hawkers.
After getting checked into my crappy hotel (the best thing about the hotel was there seemed to be no bed bugs), I walked to Piazza Barberini to join a Walks of Italy Catacombs and Crypts night tour that I had scheduled. It was fabulous and I would recommend it to everyone. I wasn’t tired at all and I think I owe this to Earthing. After arriving in Rome, I removed my shoes and felt the earth beneath them for 30 min. I had read up on this technique before my travels. The evening meal was good, albeit, more touristy than I would have liked. But it hit the spot for the walk back to the hotel.
Day 2: I walked to a piazza (the name is lost on me) and joined a Walks of Italy (great touring agency) Jewish Ghetto tour which was fabulous. I learned a lot of history that was unknown to me. There’s a lot of walking and standing on this tour and so I regret walking to the meeting point. I have a real bad back and my legs will ache if standing for long periods of time and so I’d recommend arriving in taxi to the piazza meeting point. That way your legs and back if they’re like mine don’t give out halfway through. I was so in pain and had a Vatican tour after this one.
And we segue into the Vatican…oh my gosh! I never felt so overwhelmed by art and history and spirituality as I did when I was on this tour. I was still very much in pain and it was so crowded and hot as we bumped our way through the throngs of people in the Tapestry Room but I still managed to enjoy myself and the tour. The tour was going to go into another part of the museums but the guide gave people the choice to continue on without her into the Sistine Chapel and so that’s what I, and others, did. There are no words when describing the Sistine Chapel. I was speechless and sat and just stared up for an hour or more. And now we get to a tip I’ve been anticipating with excitement…To get to St. Peter’s Basilica, I did what Rick Steves says to do. I went through the door that states Tours Only. No one monitors it. It was a Godsend. There was no way I was going to wait in another line. I could barely walk at this point. I was in so much pain but I was determined to see the Basilica. So I totally recommend trying it. I figure if someone stops you, then just nod and turn away…what are they going to do? In my case, nothing. I saw the Pieta, which evoked such emotion. I lit a candle. I sat my aching body down and reflected. CONT. Below

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Day 3: I went on the Coliseum Underground Tour which was extraordinary! Lots of steps again but I knew this going into it. I had a great relationship with the tour guide who after the tour showed me where the water fountain was and we talked for about 30 min. after about her studies and US politics, as well as, Italian politics. She had to rush to give another tour and gave me the Italian air cheek kiss. These are the type of interactions only solo travelers have, I believe. She was a sweetie and so educated in the history of Rome.
On the walk back to my hotel from the Coliseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, my GPS failed me—I may have been searching for my hotel’s address in California…oops!—and became turned around—for 3 hours. During my excursion, I discovered a wonderful Gelato place and so what does one do when one is lost? Eat Gelato, of course. The lovely women serving the gelato were able to help me, with my limited Italian and their limited English, find the Metro I needed on the map and where I needed to end up and so after scarfing down two 2-scooped cones (ummm) I headed where they told me and found the Metro. Yay! And then found my way back to my hotel without once stopping for a taxi. My fit bit recorded 30,000 steps that day and 12 miles. You can bet I was dying that night so I stayed in with some Pecorino Cheese and crackers.
Florence:
Day 4: The train to Florence was a cinch! I was in Premium Class so I was given a delicious pop tart-like snack, juice and water. The first thing I did upon arriving in Florence was to grab a Cioccolato Croissant at the Café next to the train station. Soooooooo yummy. After eating, I decided to grab a taxi to my hotel even though it wasn’t far away because the bag I was carrying had ripped and I had to hand carry a glass bottle I’d received from a restaurant. As I was crossing the street, returning to the train station, I missed a curb and fell forward into the street to the ground. The glass bottle broke just missing me as a bus was approaching. I jumped up. Two good Samaritans came to my rescue. One ran into the street to stop the bus so we could clear out the broken glass. I was close to tears and the woman said “no worries” in her broken English, and “It’s okay. Are you hurt?” I was…my knee hurt so bad (scabs are still present and my knee still hurts like heck). And my ego was bruised. But I said “no.” So that was my welcome to Florence.
The rest of the time in Florence was awesome. My favorite city (you’ll see that I have two more). Seeing Michelangelo’s David was such a sight. I actually didn’t care for the Ufizzi. It seemed so stuffy and stifling. The Basilica was as grand as any Cathedral I’d ever seen. It was so amazing. The Piazza with the Carousel (I can’t remember the name) was where I spent most of my time. I loved watching people.
Day 5: I spent this day traveling to Venice and back. My favorite city again…and I mean it this time. Next time I come to Italy, I will be spending more time in Venice and its surrounding islands. What was funny is that I was just strolling the streets not intending to end up at St. Marks but as I exited a street, there it was. A sight beyond any I had ever seen before. So amazing and so large in all of its glory. The line to enter the church was so long that I decided to marvel at its beauty from outside instead of in. I shopped the masks made in Venice (do not buy from street vendors or risk getting ones made in China) and bought most of my souvenirs in Venice. I had a ticket bought for the Doges Palace and so I was able to visit it without much wait. It’s a fantastic museum. I suggest everyone visit it. The dungeons (jail cells) are quite interesting.
On the train back, I met some very funny Americans who had been drinking. We all got something at the bar (me a half bottle of wine). Since we were in first class, we also received a snack box and a glass of Prosecco. Let's just say it was a party car. CONT. below

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Day 6 (Easter): To everyone who thinks Italy closes down for Easter, it doesn’t. There may be some smaller places that do but the Farmacias, most restaurants, etc. stay open. Easter in Florence was magnificent! I intended to wake up early and get to the Basilica to grab a place for the Explosion of the Cart but I ended up waking up later than expected—8:00 am—and began walking towards the center at around 8:45 am. In doing this, I came upon the parade. And so I joined the small group of onlookers and was able to walk with the parade through the streets to the Basilica. I got some great shots! I ran ahead of the parade to see if I could secure a good place in the crowd. But when I got to the Piazza, I had to squeeze my body in between the throngs of people as close as possible to the front which wasn’t really as close as I wanted seeing as how I’m short. And then stand still for three hours in the hot sun like a sardine in a can filled with other sardines. As I said above, I can’t stand still for long periods of time due to my back and legs. This was torture. Thankfully when the fireworks began, a tall Italian man took pity on me and my short stature—he motioned for my phone in his limited English and I happily gave it to him—we were both stuck so there was no where he could run—he lifted my phone up high and filmed the event. These are the interactions I will cherish from my trip. Neither one of us spoke much of each other’s language but yet were able to communicate nicely.
After the fireworks display I walked to the restaurant I had made a reservation at—Il Desco—for a four course meal. There were places open and so if you don't make a reservation for Easter, it's not the end of the world—you'll find a way to eat Easter lunch, I guarantee it. My only four course meal during my vacation and my last one ever. Too much food! The appetizer was Spinach flan with ricotta cheese quenelle…so yummy! First course was Paccheri pasta with light rabbit ragout…another great dish but by this time I was already feeling full. Second course was Stuffed lamb with artichokes and roasted potatoes…I left one of the stuffed lamb medallions on the plate. I was stuffed. I also wanted to have one little spot left open for dessert. For dessert I was given Millefuille with Chantilly cream and dark chocolate. No matter how full I was, I managed to finish the dessert. I also had a bottle of wine. Lol They charged me €81,00 but they had given me a receipt for €61,00 so I brought the receipts up to a waiter and he apologized and gave me €20,00 back. I think they thought I wouldn’t notice because I had drank a whole bottle of wine. I noticed.
I then spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in the Piazza with the carousel conversing with all sorts of people. One was an 80 something year old man who had lived in Florence his entire life. He couldn't speak English but I was able to gather that from his motions and the few English words he did know. We actually were able to hold up a conversation with one another which was devine. This was probably my favorite interraction of the entire trip. I also met a solo woman traveler, like myself, from Canada. We talked for hours about politics, Italy, and our lives at home.
Being so full still, I headed off to my hotel for some restful sleep. CONT. below

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Siena:
Day 7: I am going to disagree with people’s advice to take the bus to Siena and back to Florence. I wish I had taken the train instead. I’ll start off with saying that Siena is my favorite city...this time I REALLY mean it. I am so in love with its church, its piazza, its people, its shops… everything. I bought the cutest salt and pepper shakers with plate and an olive oil pourer for my bestie. When I decided to go back down the hill is when the problems began. I went down the wrong side so AWAY from where the busses pick up. I had made a mistake in not getting a map of Siena beforehand, trying to rely on the poor signage. I had been going in circles for an eternity it felt like. Up then down, up then down, and so on. That is, until I met a family of four from the South of Wales. A mom and dad and two grown daughters. They were my life savers. I had to be at the bus by at least 5:00 pm (I’m so glad I was able to get there earlier as you shall see) and it was already 3:30 pm. They gave up searching for a river to help me find my way back. We had to climb up in order to go down again. They talked me through it and got me to the top. One of the daughters was moving to Siena to go to school and so they had decided to make a family trip out of it. They even gave me the last of their water. I felt like I’d been in the desert and my saviors were there to help me get home. I even told them that. Haha! They all laughed. So they got me to the bus stop just minutes before the 4:40 pm bus was leaving. I was relieved I was so early since I had a train to Rome leaving from Florence at 7:08 pm. The mistake was believing in bus as a reliable transportation. There was stop only traffic for miles…not stop and go…we literally were stuck on the road behind hundreds of cars. We got to the bus station at 7:00 pm and I ran like hell but ended up missing my train that I had purchased online (Business Class ticket) so I ended up having to buy another ticket (2nd class this time...hated 2nd Class). All in all, I would not choose bus over train in any instance but maybe that’s just me.
Rome:
Day 8: I saw the Trevi Fountain and The Spanish Steps and all that jazz. It was certainly amazing and I didn’t get lost walking to them either which was a miracle. It was raining this day and so all of the umbrella vendors were out in force. I had an umbrella in my pack but I’m one of those people who love rain and so I didn’t mind the rain landing on my head but I had many a vendor yell “umbrella” at me. All I did was point to the sky and say “amore” and they totally got it. I even had a few who smiled and laughed.
I turned my back on the fountain and threw one coin in for safe travels, one coin in for someday meeting my soul mate, and one coin in for an engagement in my near future...I need all of the luck I can get.
Day 9: I saw the Pope today. I bought a Papal audience ticket—I know you don’t have to purchase them but I wanted to make sure I had a good seat and wasn’t standing. I had a perfect seat. I have video and photos of the Pope stopping right in front of me because his hat blew off. The wind was so cold and so strong today. That has to be a favorite moment of my trip. He’s definitely the Pope of the People.
After seeing the Pope I was supposed to visit the Borghese Gallery but I was beyond tired so I ended up going back to my crappy room and taking a nap.
Day 10 (my last day): On this day I stopped in at my favorite neighborhood café—Café Italiano (just a block from my hotel) – and had my usual… a cioccolato croissant and espresso. They knew me by now. I spent the rest of the day exploring the neighborhood around my hotel. I discovered a six floor department store—La Rinascente—just a block from my hotel and found me a gorgeous Italian made purse and some Terrone Morbido. I also got a free makeover. The rest of the day was spent at my café reflecting on my trip. CONT. Below

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Flight home: I was surprised at how easy customs was to get through. Detroit has electronic customs kiosks so there’s no filling out forms on the plane. As you arrive in Detroit you stand through a longish line and then answer questions on the kiosk. After answering all of the questions, a receipt prints. You then wait for a customs agent to be free. He looks at the receipt and asks why you were in such and such…etc. I tell him I’ve brought Pecorino Cheese back home with me. He says the dairy they’re concerned with is like cottage cheese, etc. He asks about alcohol…I told him I had brought back 2 large bottles of Liquore in my checked bags. He nods and says everything’s good and lets you go. He doesn’t ask to see them or anything. It was a breeze.
So there’s my trip report! I had a fantastic time and this was a trip of a lifetime. I wasn’t able to do everything that I wanted so I’ll definitely be back.

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908 posts

Nice report. My last visit to Rome, Florence & Venice was 2 1/2 years ago. Would love to go back, may add Venice to my Switzerland trip in a few years, my girlfriend seems to be more interested in Venice over Rome.

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140 posts

Venice was lovely. Rome and Venice are completely different and offer completely different satisfactions. I personally didn't care for Rome. It was too busy and too crowded and too big. It reminded me of every big city only that around every corner in Rome are ruins or buildings older than any I've seen. I fell for the smaller towns or the uniquely European towns.

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140 posts

@ttmom12: Safe travels! Siena for 6 days? If only! What a beautiful town to spend time in...I loved it! I definitely will spend more time in Tuscany, travel to the hill towns of Umbria, and spend more time in Venice on my next visit to Italy.

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1568 posts

Wonderful trip report! I agree with you, I loved Siena as well. The Cathedral alone I could have spent hours looking at everything. Even the floors are wonderful with the extensive engravings. Just got back from RS 7 Days in Rome tour - I adore Rome, it was a great trip. After the tour ended, I took a train to Naples for 2 nights and found it to be a fascinating city, unlike any other place I have ever been, totally un-touristy. I used Rick's guidebook and took his "Slice of Neapolitan Life Walk" and gained so much confidence navigating a strange place. Also, took a day trip to Pompeii. Italy is so full of unique places to visit.

Thanks again for a great report,
Judy B

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120 posts

Eve, What a wonderful report! I wish more people would do this. It is so helpful, what we "newbies" get out of it. Like you have me thinking...I was going to day trip to Pisa from Florence (will be in Florence 3 nights) the Siena 2n I was thinking of touring wine country. Now I am totally thinking skip Pisa & wine tour from Florence & spend the day in Siena. I think I'd be a fool not to. Again, thank you! Kate

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182 posts

I totally agree that Pisa could be skipped and yes, see Siena! An easy city to get around in with wonderful sights and people.

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287 posts

Eve, great report! I leave on my solo trip in 5 1/2 weeks. I'm going to think about what you said about bus vs. train from Siena back to Florence. Only thing is, isn't it complicated to get to the train station with luggage?

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653 posts

I enjoyed reading your report! I love how great a time you had and didn't let mishaps stand in your way! Thanks for taking the time to share.

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11613 posts

Great report, Eve!

Melissa, you can take a taxi or a local bus to the train station.

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490 posts

Glad you enjoyed your trip! Thanks for sharing! I hope your knee is healing. You covered a lot of ground! How was it going for a day trip to Venice from Rome, did I read that correctly? The Papal audience sounds amazing! Glad RS back door trick worked at St. Peter's!

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590 posts

Hi Eve! So glad you had a great trip! I was excited for you :)

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140 posts

It was the best decision of my trip to skip Pisa and head to Siena. I don't regret it at all! :-) Yep! My knee is healing but still scabbed over. It was a pretty nasty fall but not unusual for me to fall. I'm a clutz...it's more unusual to fall ONLY once. My friends were impressed about that one. Lol

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140 posts

I went from Florence to Venice. Not from Rome. The ride was fast and very enjoyable. I loved the scenery.

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Thanks, Julie! I already miss it! I want to go back so badly. My cats barely survived being without me for this trip...they're very clingy. And just like toddlers. I'm going to have to give it some time before I return.

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140 posts

Thanks, everyone for reading my report...and commenting. It helped so much having this group here before my trip. I was prepared for so much and felt more able to handle my solo trip.

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20 posts

Loved reading your report, brought back memories of our Italy trip in 2015. I admire that you went on your own, what a trooper. I want to go back some day.. on our upcoming trip, .we will be going to alpine venues and little villages rather than cities this time.

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1078 posts

Enjoyed reading all your trip stories Eve!
I also fell last time I was in Florence.
I have bad knees though they were fine that trip.
I was going into the Duomo ,and was so buy eavesdropping on the people in front of me that I missed a tiny step, and went sprawling head first into the Cathedral, landing on my knees with my backside in the air. (Wearing a skirt.)
The Guard rushed over and hauled me up, asking if I was "broken".
At least I landed facing the altar! ;))